You have heard his music, you may have even heard rumors of his eccentricities, but the man that Percy Grainger became was a result of many different influences. This biography of Percy Aldridge Grainger, composer, will examine many of them.
Percy Grainger was born in 1882 in Melbourne, Australia to what today would be called a dysfunctional family. Grainger was often witness to his mother's abuse from his father's hand, in a marriage that lasted until Percy was eleven when his mother contracted syphilis from his father after returning from an extended trip to London. Following the separation of his parents, Rose Grainger moved young Percy to the town of Frankfurt Germany in an effort to encourage his growing musical talents. Later moving again to London he studied with such composers as Grieg and Delius.
Percy Grainger and Folk Music
Percy Grainger's association with Edvard Grieg is perhaps one of the main focal points of his life. Through Grieg, Percy became fascinated by traditional folk music and embarked on an effort to record these songs using the only equipment available, wax cylinders that each could hold only two minutes of music. This tedius process nonetheless inspired Grainger to compose music based on many of these melodies that he had recorded, culminating in some of his finest works such as Shepherd's Hey, Irish Tune From County Derry, and Country Gardens.
The Dark Side of Percy Grainger
Behind this facade of genius also lay a darkened soul. Percy Grainger was undeniably a racist, particularly toward people of Latin descent. Hence, in Grainger's compositions you will not find the traditional Italian terminology that most of western music uses. Instead Grainger used "Blue-eyed English," to get his point across. Substituting such phrases as "chippy," rather than "staccato," to mark notes that should be played short. Other changes such as "louden lots," instead of "crescendo," tend to confuse those not acclimated to Grainger's style and eccentricities. This passive demonstration of Grainger's dark side is compounded by the reports that he followed in his father's footsteps, becoming an abusive and sadomasochistic husband to his bride, Ella Strom whom he married in 1926, four years after his mother's suicide (she jumped off a tall building to her death).
Percy Grainger's Contribution to Music History
While Percy Grainger's personal life was mired in speculation and a small degree of disdain, Grainger's contributions to the world of music cannot be denied. Although now, nearly fifty years after his death Percy Grainger is recognized for these achievements, during his own time he was, for the most part, ignored. Today, with the growing momentum of wind band ensembles in the public schools, Grainger's arrangements are being dusted off and recognized as the masterpieces that they truly are.